Functional Nutrition: A Cayenne Elixir to Stay Warm and Healthy
Posted by Andrea Nakayama
When it’s cold outside, I’m tempted to kick up the heat and stay in.
Even if you love the chill on your cheeks and you’re a self-proclaimed snow-bunny, you may find that there are moments, as the season shifts, that you’re drawn inside, to rekindle your glow. And, it’s no surprise! Traditionally, winter is a time to focus INWARD, not outward. It’s a time to receive, not act.
Winter is the rest-and-digest season. As the temperature drops, we usually crave warming drinks to counter the chill. So let’s kick up the heat with cayenne and explore the wonders of this warming spice as a worthy companion on our functional nutrition journey.
In my spice cupboard today is cayenne, that fiery red spice famous for turning up the heat in Tex-Mex dishes and tantalizing our taste buds. Even more, cayenne has a long history of use as a home-remedy. It’s spicy kick and healing properties come from the active agent called capsaicin that you’ll find in plants in the chili pepper family.
If you aren’t a fan of heat, consider adding just a touch of cayenne to your meals to capture the healing properties of this spectacular spice.
Meanwhile, heat seekers can consume more capsaicin by exploring a wide range of spicy peppers (from jalapeños to habaneros), or simply stick with the standard red cayenne powder that you can find on the shelves of any grocery store.
Healing benefits of cayenne
Pain reliever: Cayenne is best known for its ability to decrease pain in the body, especially joint pain and headaches. It’s believed that capsaicin short-circuits pain by depleting nerve cells of a chemical called substance P (which helps transmit pain signals along nerve endings to the brain).
Blood circulation regulator: Capsaicin also regulates blood flow by equalizing blood pressure from your head to your feet, making it a beneficial addition for those with high blood pressure. And, keeping in the heart health realm, cayenne helps clean the walls of the arteries and can help the body reduce excess LDL cholesterol and triglycerides.
If you’ve got cold feet (literally, not figuratively), cayenne may be the cure for you. It improves circulation and brings more blood to your extremities keeping your fingers frostbite-free and your toes toasty. That increased blood flow can also support the reduction of peripheral neuropathy!
Metabolic booster: Just as cayenne turns up the heat on your tastebuds, research shows it can elevate your internal temperature (hello metabolism), and may even raise the amount of energy you burn while decreasing cravings for salty, fatty or sweet foods.
Respiratory support: And as we make our way into cold and flu season, keep that cayenne handy since it can help clear respiratory passages and open up your airways. Just a dash on your meals will make a breakthrough in your breathing issues. (My late hubby used to put a sprinkle of cayenne into his hot ginger, lemon and honey tea when he was fighting an upper respiratory bug.)
Digestive stimulant: Last but not least, you know I can’t consider a spice without commenting on how it might help with digestive issues. Cayenne stimulates your GI by increasing enzyme production and the flow of gastric juices. This all adds up to improved digestion and absorption of your food.
Caution with cayenne
Before you rush to your spice cabinet, remember that capsaicin can irritate mucous membranes including eyes, lips, nose, and tongue, so use caution when cooking with chili peppers and powders. Also, if you have a known sensitivity to nightshades, it might be best to explore other spices.
Functional Nutrition in a cup
Elixirs are like magic potions, and cayenne-infused drinks are no exception. They soothe your body and soul, especially during the busy winter season. Whether you’re looking to ease digestion, clear respiratory passages, or simply warm up, I’ve got one of my favorite cayenne-inspired creations to share with you.
Superfood Mexican Hot Chocolate
At first glance the pairing of cocoa and cayenne can seem odd, but it’s long been a favorite for Mexican-inspired hot chocolate drinks and desserts.
This perfect pair was made famous with the sensual cinnamon and cayenne-infused hot chocolate that Julia served her customers in the movie Chocolat. Make yourself a mug of this superfood-infused variety that adds maca (one of my favorite adaptogens) to the mix. It’s sure to turn up the heat on a cold winter night.
This recipe makes one mug but can easily be doubled if you’d like to serve one to your sweetie, too!
- 1 cup full-fat coconut milk, cashew milk (or other nut milk of choice)
- 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/8 tsp ground Ceylon cinnamon
- 1 cinnamon stick (plus one for garnish)
- 2 Tbsp unsweetened raw cacao (or carob) powder
- 1 tsp maca powder (optional)
- small pinch of cayenne
- stevia or maple syrup to taste
In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, gently heat all ingredients and stir until well-combined. Remove cinnamon stick and serve warm with an extra cinnamon stick for stirring.
Cayenne home remedies
An added bonus, favorite folk remedies to treat everything from colds to constipation using cayenne.
Mix a few dashes of cayenne with 2-3 teaspoons of coconut oil. Apply it to painful joints several times a day (be sure you don’t have any open cuts). You may feel a mild burning sensation but this will decrease as you continue to use it. You can also purchase cream with cayenne in it.
Mix 1/8 tsp (or less to start) of cayenne powder in a glass of warm or room temperature water and drink. You can also add freshly-squeezed lemon for a double dose of digestive help.
Mix a dash of cayenne with warm water and gargle with it or use it as mouthwash.
Sprinkle a dash of cayenne pepper in your socks, the increased circulation will help keep your toes toasty.
Cold & Flu
Try the herbal remedy known as Fire Cider (a mix of garlic, onion, hot peppers, cayenne and more). Find recipes at Mountain Rose or Wellness Mama and create your own cold-busting concoction.
Now that you’ve learned about the benefits of cayenne, embrace the restorative powers of this spice in a soothing elixir and unwind. Grab your favorite blanket, curl up on the couch, and savor the season of self-care and inward reflection. Functional nutrition has never been so delicious!
Basith S, Cui M, Hong S, Choi S. Harnessing the Therapeutic Potential of Capsaicin and Its Analogues in Pain and Other Diseases. Molecules. 2016;21(8):966. Published 2016 Jul 23. doi:10.3390/molecules21080966
Fattori V, Hohmann MS, Rossaneis AC, Pinho-Ribeiro FA, Verri WA. Capsaicin: Current Understanding of Its Mechanisms and Therapy of Pain and Other Pre-Clinical and Clinical Uses. Molecules. 2016;21(7):844. Published 2016 Jun 28. doi:10.3390/molecules21070844
McCarty MF, DiNicolantonio JJ, O’Keefe JH. Capsaicin may have important potential for promoting vascular and metabolic health. Open Heart. 2015;2(1):e000262. Published 2015 Jun 17. doi:10.1136/openhrt-2015-000262
Juturu V. Capsaicinoids Modulating Cardiometabolic Syndrome Risk Factors: Current Perspectives. J Nutr Metab. 2016;2016:4986937. doi:10.1155/2016/4986937
Dumitrache MD, Jieanu AS, Scheau C, et al. Comparative effects of capsaicin in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and asthma (Review). Exp Ther Med. 2021;22(3):917. doi:10.3892/etm.2021.10349
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